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What Is Involved in Chlorophyll Extraction?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop

During chlorophyll extraction, a scientist must weaken the cell walls of a green leaf or plant, and then draw the chlorophyll out. Chlorophyll is housed inside each and every cell in green leaves, making it possible for plants to perform photosynthesis. As a liquid, chlorophyll will spill out of the leaves when treated with heat and placed in certain chemicals. This process generally destroys the leaves, so only a few leaves from any living plant should be used, in order to preserve the entire specimen.

Very green leaves typically respond better to chlorophyll extraction than pale green leaves. Spinach, kale, escarole, and any dark green leaves from trees generally work well. Pale lettuces and fuzzy lamb’s ear don’t usually work as well. The leaves should also be soft. Hard evergreen leaves, like holly leaves or pine needles, don’t usually break down enough to release their chlorophyll. Evergreens have developed many mechanisms for holding onto their resources and don’t generally give them up easily.

Escarole can be used for chlorophyll extraction.
Escarole can be used for chlorophyll extraction.

When performing chlorophyll extraction, the leaves must be heated and wilted. This may be done in one of two ways. The scientist may steam the leaves by placing them in a sieve over boiling water, or simply immerse them in the water. Steaming wilts and breaks down the leaves without turning them to mush. Some argue that this allows observers to see the extraction more clearly. Those using either cooking method should remove the leaves from heat when they’re very wilted, soft, and pliable.

Chlorophyll makes photosynthesis possible.
Chlorophyll makes photosynthesis possible.

The next step in chlorophyll extraction involves suspending the leaves in some kind of glass container. Empty baby food jars work well, as do clear glass drinking glasses. The container used for this experiment should not generally be used for food after the extraction is complete.

The scientist then usually bundles the stems of the wilted leaves together and gently knots them with cotton cord. When tied to the center of a pencil, the cord should allow the leaves to dangle in the glass container without touching bottom or the sides. Though this step isn’t necessary, it allows the scientist to remove the leaves from the container to show any color changes that take place after the chlorophyll has been removed.

Kale works well for chlorophyll extraction.
Kale works well for chlorophyll extraction.

Rubbing alcohol is the typical liquid of choice during chlorophyll extraction. It draws the chlorophyll out of the leaves and into the liquid. The scientist should simply fill the container to the brim with rubbing alcohol and let the assembly rest for about 20 minutes. The liquid should turn green. When the scientist lifts the leaves out of the liquid, they should be brown because there is no more chlorophyll in them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is chlorophyll and why is it important?

Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants and algae that's crucial for photosynthesis, the process by which sunlight is converted into chemical energy. It plays a vital role in the food chain and oxygen production. According to the National Geographic Society, photosynthesis by plants is responsible for producing the vast majority of the oxygen in our atmosphere.

How is chlorophyll extracted from plants?

Chlorophyll extraction typically involves grinding the plant material, using a solvent like acetone, methanol, or ethanol to dissolve the chlorophyll, and then filtering out the plant debris. The solvent is then removed, often through evaporation, leaving behind the chlorophyll extract. This process can vary slightly depending on the desired purity and end use of the chlorophyll.

What are the uses of extracted chlorophyll?

Extracted chlorophyll is widely used as a natural green colorant in foods and cosmetics. It also has purported health benefits and is marketed as a dietary supplement for its antioxidant properties. Research, such as that published in the "Journal of Food Science," suggests chlorophyll may have potential health benefits, including wound-healing properties and odor control.

Is chlorophyll extraction harmful to the environment?

Chlorophyll extraction, when done responsibly, is not inherently harmful to the environment. However, the solvents used can be toxic, so proper handling and disposal are crucial to prevent environmental contamination. Advances in green chemistry aim to reduce the environmental impact by using safer solvents and more sustainable practices.

Can chlorophyll be extracted at home?

Yes, chlorophyll can be extracted at home using simple methods, such as blending leafy greens with a small amount of water and straining the mixture. However, this homemade extract will not be as concentrated or pure as commercially extracted chlorophyll. For more refined extraction, specialized equipment and knowledge of safe solvent handling are required.

What is the shelf life of chlorophyll extract?

The shelf life of chlorophyll extract can vary depending on the extraction method, purity, and storage conditions. Generally, when stored in a cool, dark place, chlorophyll extract can remain stable for several months. Exposure to light, heat, or air can degrade the quality, so proper storage is essential to maintain its effectiveness and prevent spoilage.

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    • Escarole can be used for chlorophyll extraction.
      Escarole can be used for chlorophyll extraction.
    • Chlorophyll makes photosynthesis possible.
      By: designua
      Chlorophyll makes photosynthesis possible.
    • Kale works well for chlorophyll extraction.
      By: forevergreen
      Kale works well for chlorophyll extraction.